I remember one Christmas I didn't buy gifts for my cousins' kids. And then they turned up one evening in December with gifts for all three of my children. Cue awkward shuffles and surprised expressions followed 365 days of guilt until I could repay the gesture the following year.
I said "You shouldn't have" more often than "Merry Christmas" that year.
Who do you give to at Christmas? Close family, the in-laws, a few of the out-laws? Perhaps you take part in Secret Santa at the office. But what about neighbours? What about your kids' friends? What about your cousins' kids?
I know giving gifts is not about getting one back, but it is a gesture none the less. A gesture that says, 'I was thinking of you'.
It's slightly awkward when someone's been thinking of your kids and you haven't been thinking of theirs...
And so, every year I now keep a stash of emergency gifts in the cupboard under the stairs just in case I'm caught out again.
This Secret Stash has saved my bacon on many occasion and it doesn't only come in handy at Christmas. I can't tell you the number of times one of my lot has been invited to a birthday party and failed to tell me until the last minute, when they also mention the need for a present.
My tips for sussing out present etiquette go beyond the Secret Stash however. Here's what I've learned to do over the years to manage the minefield that is gift giving at Christmas!
Build a Secret Stash - and tell no one!
Tell no one because otherwise it will be raided. Gifts will go missing or a child will take advantage of your fortuitous thinking at unnecessary times. They will rely on the stash and that is not the purpose of the stash. It's for emergencies only - for when Aunty Sue arrives with Gifts For All again.
You're not the only one struggling to navigate the choppy waters of 'what to give at Christmas'. Believe me, friends and relations alike will be grateful when you say "Shall we send a card and leave it at that this year?"
A we-wont-if-you-dont gift agreement with the right people can work wonders - go for good friends and those with children first. They're more likely to understand the pressure...!
A clever blanket approach to gift giving is to find something you can make a lot of, and easily wrap. It's a bit like a stash but requires more effort - although get it right and you can rope in the kids for a fun afternoon activity.
Try baking mince pies, spiced biscuits or making seasonal fragranced pouches from oranges and cloves. Bundle them up in pretty bags or jars, tie with ribbon and ta dah! You've got a bunch of goodies ready to hand out. No one judges the generosity of a gift when it's hand made!
A Picture Says a Thousand Words
This one can be turned around within an hour if you find yourself in a tight spot. Many local high street stores now provide picture printing facilities. Just one good picture - or a trio if you can - taken from your phone, framed and wrapped is always treasured and, in my experience, considered a thoughtful surprise. Just make sure it's a flattering shot!